A few years ago ‘Battleship’ director Peter Berg was not necessarily the filmmaker you’d trust to craft a thoughtful, character-led drama around a real-life terror attack. Recently, however, he’s regained the personal touch of his 2004 sports drama ‘Friday Night Lights’. Just months after ‘Deepwater Horizon’, he reteams with Mark Wahlberg for this muscular, street-level dramatisation of 2013’s Boston Marathon bombings.
Balancing the perspectives of perpetrators, policemen and victims with tension and human interest, it’s not entirely the rah-rah flag-waving exercise that the title promise. As the narrative expands across a city first paralysed, then galvanised, by tragedy, ‘Patriots Day’ culminates in a more inclusive celebration of community.
As fictionalised headstrong cop Tommy Saunders, who finds himself stationed at the marathon finish line when twinned explosions rupture the event, killing three and wounding hundreds, on the face of it Wahlberg is the hero here. But the film divides its attention generously between a host of participants in the ensuing manhunt – from unglamorous local police sergeants to the courageous Chinese immigrant (Jimmy O Yang) kidnapped by the panicked Chechen bombers. Nervily played by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, they too are characterised with commendable restraint, neither demonised nor over-analysed.
Still, it’s the American Muslim wife of one (Melissa Benoist) who carries the film’s most riveting and provocative scene, staunchly defending their actions in the face of her unsparing interrogator (Khandi Alexander, scorching the screen in a few minutes flat). Amid its expert on-the-run action, ‘Patriots Day’ does some of its best work while seated.